Sarbanes Exposes Big Tobacco’s Role in Halting State and Federal Efforts to Curb the Youth Vaping Crisis

At a House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing today, Congressman John Sarbanes (D-Md.) criticized Big Tobacco representatives and e-cigarette manufacturers for leveraging enormous campaign contributions and hundreds of lobbyists to persuade the Trump-led U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to weaken protections against youth vaping.

“I wanted to talk a little about the FDA’s decision because originally, you know, FDA announced that it would ban all flavored e-cigarette products,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “[But] when the policy ultimately came down, it was significantly weakened…. The question I keep asking myself is, ‘What happened?’ Why would the FDA – the agency that’s tasked with regulating tobacco and has one of their key areas of focus protecting America’s youth and ensuring a healthier life for every family, this is mission-oriented stuff – why would they walk back their decision?”

Sarbanes continued: “And I just feel like it’s got something to do with how money moves in Washington. So, there’s a report from American Public Media that talks about the multimillion-dollar campaign that Juul launched to push back on the government’s efforts to restrict vaping…. Juul hired an army of lobbyists, spending almost $3 million on lobbying the federal government, more than doubling its lobbying expenses from 2017 and 2018 combined…. and Juul dramatically increased its spending in states to combat state-level efforts to restrict their products – reported 142 lobbyists registered in 48 states. Then, with the Citizens United case opening the floodgates on how dark money comes into our politics and into the policymaking apparatus up here, we saw companies like Reynolds American and Juul investor – I think 35% owner – Altria using their deep pockets to influence the regulations. Reynolds American donated millions of dollars to dark money groups like Americans for Tax Reform and Americans for Prosperity. Altria spent $295 million on lobbying since 1998, more than ExxonMobil spent in the same time period.”

Sarbanes concluded: “So the problem here is that this culture of responding to legitimate scrutiny around a public health crisis, responding by turning up your lobbying and money influence on the Hill means that the priorities that the public wants to see are continuing to be frustrated because there’s an inside game…. I think it’s a real concern and it’s something that we need to shine a light on because the American public is frankly tired of it.”